What Are You Reading? | ‘Avengers,’ ‘Crime Syndicate,’ ‘Power Pack’ and more

See what the Smash Pages crew has been reading lately.

Welcome to What Are You Reading?, our weekly look at what the Smash Pages crew has been checking off their “to read” list lately. Let us know what you read this week in the comments or on social media.

Tom Bondurant

This week I caught up on the current Avengers arc, “Enter The Phoenix” in issues #40-43. Written by Jason Aaron and drawn by Javier Garrón (with #42 drawn by Luca Maresca), it’s … fine? The last arc involved Moon Knight accumulating various Marvel U power sources in order to help Khonshu rule the world, and this feels like the inverse counterpart of that. It’s a series of fight sequences wherein pairs of Marvel characters square off against each other using Phoenix power-ups. There’s also a subplot featuring the heavy hitters (including Iron Man, Captain Marvel, Ghost Rider and Thor) trying to contain the actual Phoenix Force, which has nested in a volcano near the Avengers’ hollowed-out-Celestial headquarters.

None of it feels out of place in a comic book about Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, and part of me appreciates Aaron generally taking readers on a tour of the Marvel Universe’s most dangerous people and places. (For a while Aaron was pitting the Avengers against a group of vampires led by Dracula himself.) However, the pacing has gotten repetitive, the duels feel like you’re watching someone else play a video game, and the stakes may be Avengers-level but the consequences seem like they should involve more X-Men. As if in response to that last bit, there’s also a revelation connecting one of the old Phoenix hosts to a longtime Avenger, and that doesn’t land well at all. The art is good for what it is – again, basically a series of duels between characters who both suddenly sport redesigned costumes with flaming yellow highlights – so the problem is with the plotting. I have liked Aaron’s Avengers generally, but this has not been one of his stronger stories. He laid the groundwork earlier for a darker force orchestrating all these mystic-cosmic menaces, so here’s hoping he’s building to something which ties the run together.

I also read the first issue of Sensational Wonder Woman, a new anthology spotlighting everyone’s favorite Amazon. The story in this issue was written by Stephanie Phillips and drawn by Megan Hetrick, with colors from Marissa Louise. It begins with Diana living the life of a stereotypical 1950s housewife, so the only mysteries are a) who’s put her in this predicament and b) how quickly will she snap out of it? I won’t spoil either of those, and I won’t fault this issue for delivering a solid story about Wonder Woman refusing to abide by outdated gender roles. Regardless, this story doesn’t really say anything new about Wonder Woman. It’s just a well-done standalone tale with some nice fist-pumping moments, and it’s a good start to the series.

After that I re-read the first issue of Sensation Comics Featuring Wonder Woman, a digital-first anthology series from 2014-15. Its first story, “Gothamazon,” was the high-concept tale of Wonder Woman in DC’s favorite nightmare town. Written by Gail Simone and drawn by Ethan Van Sciver, this comes about when the Joker convinces various familiar Bat-villains to work together for once. They incapacitate Batman, Robin and Nightwing (although the way the story begins, readers might think they’d been killed outright), leaving Oracle to call in Diana. As you might expect, she puts down the likes of Man-Bat and Mr. Freeze with something approaching extreme prejudice – and a couple of razor-edged “W”-shaped boomerangs. This means the only suspense in the story is whether Wonder Woman will give into her darker impulses and just kill these villains. The answer may be foreseeable, but the journey there is worth taking, particularly for the moment when Diana recruits a pair of villains as honorary Amazons.

Finally, I checked out the first issue of the Crime Syndicate miniseries, written by Andy Schmidt, pencilled by Kieran McKeown, inked by Dexter Vines and colored by Steve Oliff. As much as DC has visited the “mirror universe” of Earth-3, I think this is the first time we’ve seen the origin of its evil Justice League. Fittingly, it involves the counterpart of a longtime JLA foe. (There’s no indication that this will be a “good” version, but this issue is just an introduction.) Otherwise, this issue is a series of vignettes showing Ultraman, Superwoman and company going about their malevolent business. Ultraman is the world’s greatest bully, Superwoman is a dominatrix, Johnny Quick and Atomika are thrill-seekers in love, and Power Ring’s ring taunts him for not being harder on the petty thieves he rounds up. Glimpses of Amerika’s twisted history involving JFK’s death and “founding father Benedict Arnold” add to the chaotic tapestry; as does a backup story about Ultraman’s Smallville days. It’s not quite as transgressive as it might think – it’s no substitute for Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s JLA: Earth 2 graphic novel – but I’m willing to give it a chance.

JK Parkin

Power Pack, the miniseries by Ryan North and Nico Leon, has gone over very well with my nine-year-old, who likes the intro pages drawn by Katie and in general the humor that’s been displayed in each issue. Issue #1 was the highlight, though, as he pretty much laughed all the way through Katie’s narration.

Well, that is, until this past week’s issue #4. This issue was narrated by Jack, who “pretends” he is livestreaming his family’s activities to his “followers” on YouTube. We listen daily to several YouTubers — or my son does, anyway; I try to pretend like they don’t exist — who talk about Minecraft and Roblox and other games that he’s interested in. North’s dialogue pretty much nails what we hear at our house on a daily basis, and I also now get some of the narration my son provides as he goes about his day-to-day.

Over the last four issues, we’ve had each member of Power Pack narrate an issue, so I’m looking forward to seeing what North and Leon have planned for issue #5.

Infinite Frontier #0 is one of those comics that’s hard to review, as it’s pretty much previews of various upcoming comics, held together with a framing sequence featuring Wonder Woman, Spectre and a few other cosmic-powered DC characters. Coming off of Death Metal and Future State, there is something comforting about seeing things return to a somewhat “normal” state in the DC Universe, with some changes in continuity that I can get behind — like the return of the Justice Society and Oracle, for example. If you’re wondering what the next few months of DC stories will look like, this is an easy way to get an overview and figure out what you might be interested in.

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